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I'm sure this is old hat for anyone who has ever been on I84 at Boardman, OR, but for a crusty ol' prairie resident seeing a virtual forest (eighteen thousand acres worth) of cultivated trees - well, it kinda blew my mind. We've got a few Dutch Elms around here, but they'd have to be stacked to be as tall as these:
These trees would be the Pacific Albus. The "what" you say? It's what I said when we drove by eastbound and could read the signs posted in front of the various "fields." Most of the sectors were labeled as planted in 1999, but some were 1997 and a few smaller sections were in the 2000s. Welp, that's what the Blackberry is for!
It is actually a hybrid poplar and is kinda considered a "junk" tree - good for chip and fiber production. Apparently, that was the original intent for planting these trees - they're a quick growing variety, and it was thought that they could be harvested before they achieved full growth. However, markets didn't cooperate - it turned out that the normal sources for chips and fiber - residue from harvesting lumber at sawmills - was cheaper.
So, with no market and no reason to cut them down, the forest continued to grow. Now, however, they are big and tall enough to harvest for boards.
Because no one has used Pacific albus before, Collins has to figure out how to grade the wood and develop markets for it. The company’s Lee Jimerson explains that Pacific albus is best suited for niches that require light weight but little strength. Forget about 2/4s. Some of the best wood processed at the Boardman plant will go into moldings and other millwork. The very best may be peeled and used in high-end plywood. (It is so light-colored that it won’t show through a .02-inch-thick top layer of some fancier species.) Other good albus may be made into blinds, picture frames, and furniture, presumably in Asia. Ordinary pieces will be made into panels for home remodeling centers that now use South American and New Zealand radiata pine. The low-end wood will be made into shipping pallets and cases.
Our destination was only about thirty miles west of this forest, so naturally we asked about it. Our customers told us about the high tech sawmill contained within the tree farm. Apparently, the logs are scanned to determine the best way to cut to obtain the most board feet of lumber with the least waste, as well as determining whether it is suitable for the peeling process for plywood. I can remember some show on Discovery or some such about how "old tech" sawmill hands have to guesstimate for maximum utilization - and they get very good at it. But, someone figured out software for the task.
It is also thought that the RV industry might prefer this wood for cabinetry and furniture because of the weight savings. Lighter weight figures in using the wood for pallets and shipping containers - more weight will be available on a truck for freight or make the load lighter - either way would save fuel/ton shipped. Naturally, this whole venture is being painted with the broad strokes of the "green" movement brush. Which suits me fine - I hope it works out for them - I'd sure hate to see those trees go to waste because they couldn't be marketed and sold.
It's just this kind of thing that makes these trips worthwhile - ya just never know what is around the next curve or hill in "new to me" country. Some historical site, a beautiful vista, military installation with cool toys, crops that seem "odd" to me, a bunch of local hot rodders out cruising - well, you'll never find out unless you go and look.